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Bridging the protocol chasm: employers are becoming more interested in applicants' attitudes and behaviors than in their grade point averages and school evaluations. What is your school doing about that?

A CHASM EXISTS FOR GRADUATING COLLEGE STUDENTS AS THEY complete their senior year and prepare to enter the workforce. Many employers today believe that American colleges and universities are not preparing students for the professional workplace. Graduates don't know how to dress, lack essential dining protocol skills, and don't understand the interview process; many of them cannot hold their own in a business conversation. Simply put, most young employees are well versed in computer skills and "book learning," but lack social graces crucial to success. Yet according to a nationwide DOE survey, employers are becoming more interested in applicants' attitudes and behaviors than in their grade point averages and school evaluations.

Certainly, no one doubts the importance of a solid liberal arts education, but institutions must rethink what that term means. Most students enter college with one primary goal: to earn a diploma to secure a high-paying job. Yet, in almost all markets, it is hard to get a good-paying professional job without every edge. Employment experts indicate that the average college graduate will change jobs at least 10 times, and change career fields at least three times during a professional working lifetime. Universities have a responsibility--nay, a duty--to prepare the college senior for the corporate culture. It is no longer about what a university can do, but what a university must do to meet those expectations. According to the Research Institute of America (, over go percent of customers will stop doing business with an organization whose employees have been discourteous to them. Business-savvy supervisors are foolish to permit subordinates to interact with customers when they are not literate in appropriate business protocol--especially considering the international factors. Studies conducted with human resource personnel indicate that what an applicant says is far less important than how he says it: the vocal inflection, facial expressions, body language, eye contact, and appearance speak volumes over the uttered word.

So, what's the solution? Let it be handled by the private sector with qualified etiquette instruction? Certainly, such training often includes the finer points of proper dress, making an introduction, delivering a toast, hand-shaking skills, formal table service protocol, making dinner conversation, as well as understanding how to effectively communicate during a business dinner and at an interview. But although the instructors who staff these seminars and workshops are well trained, the cost for the average college senior remains prohibitive (from $500 an hour to well over $5,000 for the day!). Group rates are available, but clearly, the less expensive solution for college seniors lies elsewhere.

The same curriculum for a class in etiquette and protocol could be easily incorporated into a college class syllabus, or a series of college seminars. The concepts could be assimilated into any departmental major as early as a freshmen orientation or general education course, or as late as a senior capstone seminar. Many schools offer a "Business and Professional Communication" course or similar. But although instructive in the intricacies of corporate structure, company politics, and business philosophy, they often ignore or spend too little time on the importance of how to research a company for a potential position, what to do during an interview, and how to effectively communicate with clients. The largest area ignored is dining protocol. An assumption is made that the student already knows these things--usually, an erroneous assumption.

Because so many important business decisions are made during company-related social functions, it is important that such a course include: moving through a corporate receiving line with handshakes and introductions, working with wait staff, delivering a toast, understanding wine and dinner menu terminology and formal table setting etiquette, and knowing how to effectively participate during dinner conversations with clients and colleagues. Course instructors can receive training in a variety of ways: speaking with the catering director of a university, working with the manager of dining services, self-teaching using the vast resources available at the local bookstore, or a combination of these things. Many institutions have private dining rooms for special campus events, and employ professionally trained dining staff. Student meal plans can be utilized for payment, and administrative staff and/or faculty can be incorporated to supervise and assist students. Mock interviews can be conducted using pseudo job descriptions, creating a more realistic example of what to expect during an employment interview. For campuses without catering assistance, a night out at an upscale restaurant might suffice. Many restaurants have separate dining rooms for large gatherings.

What I suggest is neither difficult nor expensive. I know, because I designed and implemented such a course many years ago. Five days of the syllabus are devoted to exactly what I have outlined above. The last day is devoted to an alumni panel whose members discuss their working experiences with class participants. The practical training has never failed to receive raves from alums.

Think back to when you were preparing to enter the professional work force. What did you most need to know and whom did you expect to teach you those things?

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Title Annotation:Controversy
Author:Carrish, Sharon
Publication:University Business
Date:Dec 1, 2003
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